In late 2015 I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar on social transformation through the arts. The seminar or colloquium was convened by Cynthia Cohen, Michelle LeBaron and Kim Berman.
The event took place at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS) from 30 November to 5 December 2015. You can see a list of participants here: http://www.socialtransformation.pwias.ubc.ca/ .
The event examined practice in the light of theory and vice versa. It explored the role of arts in creating resilience, in strengthening possibilities for reconciliation after conflict as well as in forging compelling narratives about social justice in contexts of inequality.
My contribution focused on the persistent challenges of inequality, gender/racial strife and ongoing marginalisation in South Africa circa 2015 and the ways the arts might relate to this. Using my own creative work as a reference point, I wondered how the arts could work against avoidance of burning issues and at the same time help open up new possibilities rooted in deeper understandings of and emphasis on our shared humanity. I held out the possibility that artists can simultaneously adopt both the role of the clear and strong voice, on the one hand, and be willing to be vulnerable and create channels of deeper communication, on the other?
Participants explored work on the ground as well as thinking frameworks. They further saw the STIAS event as a springboard for further inter-disciplinary and intercultural conversation on what it means to be human in times of great upheaval, and the role of arts in social change.